Tiptoetulips: Flowers their own reward for hard work


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Two yellow tulips in the front yard are the only clues to the elegant beauty behind Dorothy Hingtgen's home in the Bowman Woods neighborhood.

Hingtgen tends to 1,000 tulips in a rainbow of colors in the terraced beds of her backyard at 272 Crandall Dr. NE.

For most gardeners, tulips are simple. Plant bulbs in the fall and see them bloom in the spring.

But for Hingtgen, 78, the process is involved.

She and her husband, Dan Hingtgen, 77, dig up one-third of the bulbs after the tulips bloom every year -- that's more than 300 -- to clean, dry, organize and store them.

"They like to be handled," says Dorothy, who also teaches piano to neighbors as a hobby. "They like to be dried and put away in the summer.

"They haven't told me that," she adds, laughing.

April to May is Iowa's typical tulip season.

According to the Holland.

nl Web site, the tulip was a wild flower growing in Central Asia, first cultivated by the Turks as early as A.D. 1000 and introduced in Western Europe and the Netherlands in the 17th century.

Originally used for medicine, the tulip found favor as garden decoration and soon became a trading product, especially in Holland.

Dorothy buys mail-order bulbs from Breck's, which touts Dutch tulips.

She estimates spending about $100 a year on new bulbs

to supplement the ones she and Dan replant in September or October.

"You just can't stop when you start ordering," she says, adding, "It's really not bad when you think of what people spend on other hobbies." The yard is a testament to their work.

For about four weeks every spring, a sea of color envelopes their land.

Orange, red, white and yellow tulips that dominated beds last week give way to purples and pinks just beginning to bloom.

Red tulips called "Scarlets" have been a mainstay since the Hingtgens bought their home in 1966.

The couple lived in Germany, California and New Jersey, with three sons along the way, moving as needed for Dan's job with Rockwell Collins before returning to Iowa.

Dorothy, who grew up near Norway, Iowa, brought an antique green water pump and love of gardening from the farm. The pump sits among the beds as decoration, along with a bird bath, bird feeder and Dorothy's favorite swing that hangs from a large ash tree.

Even with the ash, an apple tree and crabapple in the backyard, the tulips receive plenty of sun. The beds are wellmulched with a mixture of shredded leaves and cocoa bean hulls, so they don't need watering.

Dorothy plants the bulbs with a granular bulb food and spreads Milorganite, an organic nitrogen fertilizer that "has a terrible smell," tokeep deer away. She points to "Sunrise," a double yellow tulip with red edging, as her favorite.

Orange tulips are the most reliable, she says.

"If you want to plant one color, plant orange," she says. "Then you'll always have tulips." Handwritten charts show where each varietyof tulip is planted. Bulbs are dug after leaves turn brown in June, hosed off, dried inthe shade and stored in carefully labeled plastic trays in the basement.

Bad bulbs are discarded.

Dorothy says she doesn't mind if people look at the flowers, but doesn't want any picked.

Even she doesn't cut them and has never entered her flowers in any contests.

One young man once saw the beds and announced, "Mrs. Hingtgen, these are inspirational!" she says with a grin.

"That's enough reward."